Alisi Telengut is the director of the animated short film Baigal Nuur – Lake Baikal. The film had it’s Sundance premiere at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival as part of the animated shorts program. I had the opportunity to sit down with Alisi Telengut in Park City, during the Sundance Film Festival to discuss the importance of her film to spread awareness of the Mongolian language.
Alisi: Hi, my name is Alisi Telengut. I’m the director of the short film Baigal Nuur – Lake Baikal in the Sundance Animated Shorts Program. It premiered two days ago in the Animated Shorts Program at the Egyptian Theatre. I’m a Canadian artist of Mongolian roots, and I’m mainly based in Montreal, Canada and Berlin, Germany.
Eric Ethan: What is your earliest memory of animation?
Alisi: I got into animation complete by chance. When I was about to study in the university I applied in the animation program because I saw, and my family. that it is a 3D animation program, actually. So I applied, I got accepted, and I started studying. Turned out it was an independent animation program pushing people to do auteur filmmaking. I was really happy. I was experimenting with different mediums and when I was a student, was very inspired by the South African artist William Kentridge. And that’s how I really started, and continued animation filmmaking.
Eric: What is the film Baigal Nuur – Lake Baikal about?
Alisi: Yes. So the short film Baigal Nuur – Lake Baikal, it explores the relationship of human and nature. The world of human and more than human. In the sense that it reimagines the formation of Lake Baikal. It is the deepest, freshwater lake in the world, as well as the oldest lake in the world. It formed 25 million years ago. And the film features the voice of an indigenous woman from this region.
Eric: What was the inspiration behind the creation of Baigal Nuur – Lake Baikal?
Alisi: The inspiration for this film comes from, I guess it’s because my mother tongue is Mongolian. It’s a minority language. And, in the film, the woman is from Buryat, from the Lake Baikal region. They speak the language called Buryat. it’s a Mongolian dialect, which means that it’s a minority’s language. And I’ve been very interested in this language. There are different nuances of different dialects. And I learned throughout this animation process, I learned that this language became extremely endangered because of this continuing colonial realities since 300 years ago. As well as the post-soviet education policies. So the language has become very endangered. So I collaborate with a woman, an indigenous woman from this region living abroad. A Buryat diaspora. And I collaborated with her on the voice of the film.
Eric: What were some of the challenges in the filmmaking process of Baigal Nuur – Lake Baikal?
Alisi: The biggest challenge of creating this film was mainly I think is because I could not go to this region. I can’t go to the Lake Baikal area. I started this project about four years ago, I started doing research and of course, the pandemic started. So there were lots of travel restrictions. So I cannot go to Lake Baikal in Siberia. And later, finally, the travel restrictions were eased. The Russia Ukraine war started. It’s the other war is still ongoing, so I cannot go this region in the near future. So, that’s the biggest challenge. Everything was based on the text that I read about this region or like Google Maps. And, so that’s a bit difficult.
Eric: What is the most satisfying part of making Baigal Nuur – Lake Baikal?
The most satisfying part. It’s like I finish this film and I can share the work with everyone, with the audience. I’m really happy about that. And people can know about this endangered language and then also know about the lake. The invisible voices. Yeah.
How has your Sundance experience been for you this year?
Alisi: I’m very grateful that my work has been selected. I think it’s one of 53, probably 53 short films out of maybe more than 12,000 submissions. That’s what I understood. So I feel really grateful. Yeah, I’m really happy. And so far the Sundance Film Festival has been intense. Because I got here. It’s been three days. And yeah my screening was on the second day, the premiere screening at the Egyptian Theatre. And the second screening was yesterday. So finally today I’m going to have some time to just, go to events. So it’s been intense, like from morning to evening there’s always something happening at Sundance.
Eric: And what is next for you? Do you have any exciting new projects you can share with us?
Alisi: Yeah. So this project, of course, I’m going to show it at different festivals and also at art galleries and museums. And, currently I’m working on another short film with, actually with a Sundance alumni as well. So the film also explores the relationship between human and non-human. Particularly about the experience of breathing like from inside body and outside body. They’re all very interconnected, intertwined. So that is the project.
Alisi: Oh. Yeah. There’s just maybe one thing I would like to add. It’s just people think animation, for example, they see my animation, they imagine I have 3000 paintings after the film is completed. Well, actually, everything was completed on one piece of metal. So at the end, I just have a giant piece of metal full of stones, and then it’s super heavy. It’s like a BRICK! Yeah. So I can’t even bring it here, I don’t think so. (laughs).
You can visit Alisi Telengut’s website to learn more about the film Baigal Nuur – Lake Baikal.